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Flavoured whiskies pushing forward

Having tracked the rise and rise of flavoured whiskies since Red Stag valiantly ventured into uncharted waters back in 2009, our suggestions, recommendations and foresights have entered the mainstream and become part of the industry’s underlying narrative, writes Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor International.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whisky

The flavoured whisky palette now boasts hues from all the major whisky segments ranging from Scotch to Japanese and from Irish to Bourbon and Canadian variants. What are the common themes emerging?

First, flavour sophistication tends to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Honey and cinnamon hold the sceptre while heritage and localisation references underscore their sourcing.’ English breakfast’ flavoured follies have thankfully been bypassed.

Second, flavoured whiskies tend to explicitly or implicitly be positioned as liqueurs rather than whiskys per se. Sidestepping the definitional labyrinth and sclerotic purist critique, this provides ample room for experimentation and finally awakes the liqueur category from its long slumber.

Third, flavoured whiskies’ high energy environment targeting, predilection for chilled shot drinking rituals and gender neutral marketing have the potential to expand audiences beyond the category’s core older male demographic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is largely already the case and the next big gamble will be getting those drinkers to eventually trade up towards the flagship brands.

Fourth, topical/regional references can provide fresh inspiration or capitalise on the zeitgeist- at the very least momentarily, like in the case of Ballantine’s Brazil surfing the waves of media interest on the back of the World Cup. Nevertheless, vodka’s example should be used as a cautionary tale rather than a template for success and the waves of dessert-flavoured launches should either be avoided altogether or come with their distinct, unique narrative. Canadian whiskey in particular has historically underperformed the wider category – global 0.3% total volume CAGR versus more than 5% for 2008-2013- and its less sophisticated profile and positioning actually provides the segment with a wider range of opportunities for innovation. As the latest attempts to reinvigorate it seem to finally reach critical mass in the US, ‘Granma’s pies’ flavours might not be such a bad idea after all. That is, as long as they build their own unique proposition and call themselves liqueurs. Retro design cues and a dollop of nostalgia can only help.

Diageo has launched a new three-strong range of sweet pie flavoured Canadian whiskey liqueurs in the US. The brand, Piehole, is available as an apple pie, cherry pie and pecan pie flavours and will sell for US$14.99 for a 75cl bottle.

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